Much like The League of Gentlemen which followed it nearly a decade later, The Lavender Hill Mob is about a group of men who are determined to ‘get rich quick” by stealing from the coffers of the Bank of England. In this case, it’s a scheme which involves the smuggling of gold out of the country. The Sterling is still on the ‘gold standard’ at this point, thus making the keeping of gold in the nation all the more important to the authorities. The universality of gold’s acceptance, however, means that our group of sterling individuals (sorry about that) can head to India, Turkey, or any location where they can convert their metal into currency, as long as they select a nation which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the UK. It is in Argentina where we find ourselves at the story’s outset, and where Henry Holland (played by the always excellent Alec Guinness) begins to explain how the matter was carried out.
As the brains behind this effort, Mr. Holland seems to be one of the most unlikely criminal minds in the history of lawlessness: meek, mild, persnickety, and the personification of “by the book”. There are titanium rail on either side of him as he follows a path laid down by his superiors, and he deviates not a hair from that route in his position as a bank transfer agent for the delivery of gold bullion each week. But it is precisely this methodical dedication to his duty which grants an unique perspicaciousness which in turn gives him the idea of just how that material might be way-laid. His new fellow boarder, Alfred Pendlebury (played by Stanley Holloway) happens to be an amateur sculptor, and a manufacturer of souvenirs by trade including a metal Eiffel Tower, which Mr. Pendlebury makes himself using the small smelter in his warehouse.
Thus begins the planning of a method to get the gold, melt it down, mould little pointy sculptures, then leave the country with them as fast as their little legs can carry them before anyone cottons on to who done it. The results of the whole affair – recruiting of the two compatriots Lackery Wood (Sid James) and “Shorty” (Alfie Bass), the research, the rehearsing and the ultimate carrying out of the plan – is very much played for laughs, in direct contrast to the dark humour of the previously mentioned The League of Gentlemen. Throughout the action we are aware this is ‘good clean fun’ and no one is bound to be hurt, nor tragedy revealed.
Fabulous acting, some fascinating views of London in the years just after the war – vast evidence of the rubble of the City, as well as the dimension of devastated area immediately around St. Paul’s and to its west as far as Fleet Street – as well as a view into the daily lives of the people who were simply struggling day to day to both make a living as well as restore some sort of order and normality after so many years of anarchy and hopelessness.
Dashed good viewing, wot? As any fule shuld kno!
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
The J. Arthur Rank Organisation presents
an Ealing Studios Production
T.E.B. Clarke (original screenplay)
This year, I’ve been watching DVDs from the library for a number of reasons, mostly to do with a combination of “filling in the gaps in my ‘pop culture’ knowledge”, as well as a concerted effort to better understand story editing by both watching a film and then re-watching listening to people who have studied that particular movie for years in order to better appreciate the themes, plot construction, symbolism, and so on.
The process would be nothing without the secondary audio tracks. Sometimes it’s like having actually been through the film-making process with the people involved.